Richard Thorpe is a PhD candidate in the School of Creative Industries, a practicing psychologist and NUPSA’s Satellite Representative.


Following on from last week, I hope everyone’s bodies and brains got some movement, sunshine, and sleep.

Probably our most important need is safety, and this can mean both physical safety and emotional safety. Normally in our society we are pretty physically safe, but COVID-19 has certainly changed that, and we may now find ourselves very wary of other people, and concerned for the health of ourselves and our family.

There is a real risk to safety, and so the brain generates an interesting thing called FEAR or ANXIETY to help us cope. Fear stimulates the fight-or-flight response in our sympathetic nervous system (which is like your body’s accelerator pedal) which provides energy to fight or flee. That response may be useful for fighting a bear, but not a virus, so what to do?

The fight-or-flight response is built in by evolution, and is triggered by your brain’s threat detector, the amygdala. One strategy to combat the inadvertent triggering of the fight-or-flight response is to starve the amygdala of information – which means limiting your news consumption, and any conversations which tend towards the negative too much.

A second strategy is to develop a positive coping statement, which basically tells your brain, “I can handle this.” We can definitely handle this!

A third strategy is to counter the activation of the sympathetic nervous system by stimulating the para-sympathetic nervous system (the brake pedal), also known as the rest-and-digest response. Making time for relaxation can help your body and mind in many ways, so try a guided mediation, progressive relaxation exercises, or yoga nidra. (My favourite! Nidra means sleep).

I like to do my relaxation after lunch, kind of a power nap, before I start my afternoon pomodoros. I will record a relaxation track for you all later in the week.

One final strategy is diaphragmatic breathing. Just a minute or two of slow breathing can help to calm the whole nervous system, and has been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system.

ACTION CHALLENGE: Pick one strategy that you haven’t been doing daily, and commit to doing it every day this week.

Go on. I dare you. 😉

Tune in for Day 3 next week, Control Orientation. This is a big one!

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